You might remember Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan National Park from the film Roar – a National Geographic documentary that showed an epic battle between an old and young lion, fighting over water holes and wives.
Nxai is part of the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve – a huge, flat area of land the size of Portugal, part of the Kalahari Basin, and one of the largest salt pans in the world.
The land consists of sand dunes, rocky islands and peninsulas, and desert terrain, and with no vegetation growing on the salty terrain, in dry weather, the land can be arid and, save from the iconic Chapman’s Baobab tree (believed to be 4,000), wildlife free.
But when the rains come, this prehistoric lake transforms into a powder blue lake, surrounded by grassy plains, which attracts large numbers of wildebeest, zebra, and a breathtaking number of pink flamingos which flock to the area after a rainy season.
This change in climate causes one of the largest mammal migrations in Africa – between 15,000 and 20,000 zebras and 5,000 wildebeest move between the Boteti river in the west during dry season, and return to the plains when the rain starts again.
Nxai Pan National Park covers a 2100 km area of the reserve, and consists of larger pans, that were once salt lakes, and are now either filled with water during the rainy season or grassy and dotted with acacias.
Because of this unique landscape, wildlife viewing is dependent on good rains. The best time to visit is the wet season from December-April – although due to bad road conditions during the rain, it might be easier to visit during the drier season from May to September when the park is more accessible, and the wildlife is easy to spot, as they flock to the artificial watering holes within the park.
What will you see when you get there? As well as wildebeest, zebra, and flamingos standing on one leg, you could find springbok, impala, brown hyenas, cheetahs, giraffe, lions, and on a really good day, elephant and buffalo.
Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan National Park entrance fee
Daily park fees are BWP120 per person and an extra BWP50 for your vehicle.
Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan National Park highlights
The focal point of the park is the waterhole. Here, and around the Mopane woodland is where you’ll find the key wildlife, from lion and giraffe to Springbok and Flamingo.
Perhaps the park’s most famous sight is Baine’s Baobabs. Named after the explorer, naturalist, artist and cartographer Thomas Baines who painted them and inscribed his name on the trees in 1862, the ‘sleeping sisters’ (as they are also known) are a striking sight on the sparse landscape.
Activities at Nxai Pan National Park
As with all Botswana safaris, there are a whole host of activities on offer at Nxai Pan National Park. These range from classic game drives, and bird-watching, quad biking across the pans, walks with the local San – an iconic African tribe, and a trip to the nearest village, Gweta.
Getting to Nxai Pan National Park
Nxai Pan is one of the slightly more accessible areas of the Makgadikgadi, but roads inside the park can be a nightmare to navigate during the rainy season – so a 4×4 or guide is definitely advised! The turn off to the park is clearly marked on the road from Maun (138km away) and Nata (167km). From the turn-off, it’s 35km to the park gate.
Search & book accommodation around Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan National Park
Until recently there was no accommodation in the park, but now you can stay in Nxai Pan Camp, a luxurious property with eight purpose-built desert chalets and a family tent, plus a dining room lounge area, viewing deck, pool, and library. The main draw of the camp is the permanent waterhole out front, frequently visited by elephants, and the property offers trips such as stargazing, and visits to the salt pans.
Have you been to Makgadikgadi Nxai Pan and have any tips to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!